SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – A California judge on Thursday ordered Golden State Killer suspect Joseph James DeAngelo to submit new DNA samples to prosecutors pursuing dozens of rape and murder charges, nearly two years after the man’s arrest.
Investigators say only one DNA sample was obtained during DeAngelo’s booking in April 2018, and that due to the extensive number and nature of the crimes backup samples are necessary to speed up the slow-moving case.
DeAngelo’s team of public defenders fought the motion and accused prosecutors of trying to obtain new samples under their nose. His defense also told Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Steve White they were having trouble communicating with prosecutors scattered across six counties.
Ventura County Chief Assistant District Attorney Cheryl Temple replied prosecutors had “bent over backward” to coordinate the extra samples with DeAngelo’s attorneys and told the judge they were ready and willing to take the samples in open court. She added that evidence connects DeAngelo to “hundreds of felonies.”
“We’re not asking for a blood sample, we’re asking for cheek swabs,” Temple said.
Judge White, who peered at the caged suspect throughout the 50-minute hearing, ordered DeAngelo to give prosecutors four new samples following his Thursday appearance.
Investigators arrested DeAngelo at his Sacramento area home in April 2018 after using a then-fledgling forensic technique involving commercial genealogy databases.
Officials scoured genealogical websites to compare openly available DNA samples of people checking their family history, to DNA collected at crime scenes tied to the Golden State Killer/East Area Rapist suspect. After finding a close match in the database presumably from a relative, investigators zeroed in on DeAngelo and were able to secure DNA from his garbage and other items on his property.
The subsequent arrest of the former police officer breathed life into a murder-rape cold case that baffled California and federal investigators for decades and simultaneously ushered in a prolific new investigative tool for police.
Law enforcement and prosecutors across the country are closely watching DeAngelo’s case, as it is among the first high-profile criminal prosecutions involving genealogy databases.
But critics highlight the lack of rules or oversight with the DNA-gathering technique and cast law enforcement’s essentially unchecked ability to use information obtained from popular genealogy websites like 23andMe, GEDMatch and Ancestry as an invasion of privacy.” For their part, 23andMe and Ancestry say they have never given customer information to law enforcement and do not share customer data with public databases.
A multi-jurisdictional team of prosecutors from counties including Sacramento, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Orange, Contra Costa and Tulare have charged DeAngelo in 13 murders and over a dozen sexual assaults and robberies. The counties have decided to consolidate the case to Sacramento County, where DeAngelo owned a home and was ultimately nabbed by law enforcement.
Ignoring officials’ calls to avoid crowded areas due to the coronavirus, reporters and curious onlookers packed the diminutive courtroom at Sacramento County’s main jail to catch a glimpse of the balding, frail, 74-year-old white man accused of a brazen raping and killing spree during the 1970s and 1980s.
Prosecutors claim DeAngelo selected and spied on his victims in advance while lurking through dark suburban neighborhoods in Sacramento, the Bay Area, the Central Valley and Southern California. One by one, dozens of victims say they were startled inside their homes by a man wearing a ski mask, tied up and raped- often with their husbands and children nearby.
If he is indeed the Golden State Killer, DeAngelo is now just a shell of the man who evaded police for over 40 years and sent suburban families scrambling to guard their homes with security systems and guns. From the courtroom cell, the shackled inmate leaned against the bars and appeared to doze off in plain view of the judge and a row of rolling news cameras.
In recent weeks, DeAngelo’s attorneys have indicated their client is willing to plead guilty if it means avoiding the death penalty. But the prosecutors said they have just begun evaluating the offer and all the involved district attorneys must have a say.
Prosecutors are still in the process of finalizing evidence and preparing witnesses for a scheduled May 12 preliminary hearing. Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Thien Ho said he met with DeAngelo’s lawyers in February and that he is “fine-tuning” things and could have a finalized witness list by the end of next week.
DeAngelo’s public defenders have routinely complained about the breadth of the case and difficulties communicating with the various jurisdictions. They also claim to be outmatched and under-resourced.
Alice Michael with the Sacramento County Public Defender’s Office told the judge Thursday the defense wants to settle the case but doesn’t know who has the authority to make the call. She said it seems “six separate counties are trying their own cases” and asked who is in charge.
“It’s confusing to us what this joint prosecution means,” Michael said. “We want to settle this case; we’ve made that very clear.”
Judge White said he was “significantly concerned” with the Sacramento public defenders becoming overburdened and asked the parties to confer and come up with an efficient process to relay future settlement offers and further motions. He ordered DeAngelo to next appear on April 22.